tv Technology Policy and Politics CSPAN February 2, 2016 8:32pm-9:43pm EST
conversations on capitol hill and lets you have a seat at the table. you can't find that anywhere else. >> i'm a c-span fan. >> i'm a c-span fan. >> i'm a c-span fan. >> yes, i am a c-span fan. >> that's the power of c-span, access for everyone to be part of the conversation. matt mahan joined president obama's senior communication adviser to talk about technology in government and politics. this is an hour ten minutes. >> i'm so excited to see we have a full house tonight. thanks for being here. now is an important time for us to be having this conversation about the relationship between
government and technology. especially with the advent and rise of technology platforms that are creating new industries and changing how we live our lives every single day. it's clear that technology is out pacing -- is fast outpacing federal and state regulations. if there's one critical factor -- additional factor that drives this merging of tech policy and politics it's the constitue constituents. gone are the days of when they used to say, that's government. i don't expect a response. we're in a different time now. constituents deserve and expect an engaged responsive government, powered by the el t elected officials that they sent to congress or to their government to serve them. this is all made possible by the use of technology. technology is magic and i think that by bringing constituents and government together it has proven its worth. i would like to get started. i'm pleased to be hear in conversation with matt mahan,
jennifer palka and dan pfeifer. he is the vice president of polpol policy for gofundme. thank you for being here. let's get started. my first question is for. ladies first. i would like to talk about the modernization of government that's happening across all federal agencies under president obama. there is definitely an uptick in talent going from silicon valley to washington, washington to silicon valley. the administration is recruiting top-notch talent. you were one of the recruits. you went from silicon valley to washington. you were -- what we would love to hear from you is about your role as u.s. -- deputy uscto in
the white house and the advent of the united states digital under your tenure. >> thank you for opening with the question about the government side of it. i think very often we think about this as just politics and that and government are closely tied but they are two different things. i think it was sort of when obama was elected and everyone -- he was the first president elected with the internet or with help from the internet. there were years when there was an enormous disruption of politics by the internet. so that was starting in 2008. starting in i would say about 2012, we started to see this really take root in government. i think it was led to be honest by the folks in the government digital service in the united kingdom where they took it very seriously bringing in digital
talent and not having it just be sort of innovation at the edges (t&háhp &hc%aying, we can@úq provide digital services to citizens that meet a far higher quality bar. that really create an experience for citizens that meets this expectation that you have now when you are on your mobile phone or online all the time. everything is so convenient and so different than it is -- than it was ten years ago. i was running code at the time. we started out of an inspiration of the ways in which the internet had disrupted politics. how are we going to bring the principals and values of the web not just to getting people elected but to the business of gove governing? it matters what we think of government. if we have a good experience, we are likely to be more involved, more engaged as political citizens.
so i was running code at the time when todd park who was the cto, second ever chief technology officer of the united states, which is a big deal. this is something president obama brought to his administration. asked me to come and work on a program that he had started that was modelled after code for america, the presidential innovation fellows program. i know of at least two people in the audience who were presidential innovation fellows. you shout out to the other ones. i don't flow wheknow where they. this brought the best of silicon valley to government. i reverse pitched todd on the notion that we really need to bring not just folks into agencies to help with open data and create value for the american public through data and the wide variety of benefits that people have been seeing
from this but also really put more digital competency at the center of government and change fundamentally how we create the technology that mediates our interaction between governments -- between government and citizens. so much incredible has happened. i think we probably would not have been terribly successful if healthcare.gov hadn't failed. i'm sorry if that's controversial. >> i'm not sure that was worth the price. >> it worked. some of the people who made healthcare.gov are in the room. ryan being one of them. hello. [ applause ] in the end, we enrolled more people than we even had thought. >> right. >> we would before the site failed. that's a remarkable accomplishment. >> it's amazing. >> partly because of that, the plans to create internal group that we ended up calling the united states digital service
were under way before healthcare.gov that crisis, which turned into such an enormous opportunity, really gave us the air cover to say, no, we have to take a fundamentally different approach to how we create technology that works for the american people. it has to be data driver and it has to work a lot more -- not entirely. a lot more like how silicon valley works. i'm incredibly proud that the people who came to this task came to it with such an amazing desire to serve the public and have brought so much incredible change. we have seen things like agile procurement happening. we have seen wholesale reinventions of services that the government provides citizens. now we have seen that working also at the local and state level through code for america. i think it's an mazing thing. i think as people start to have experiences with government that
more match the experiences they have in their personal lives, my sincere hope and my wish for the world is that really makes people have a confidence in government that changes their experience with the political realm. >> i mean, that was amazing. thank you. fantastic answer. i think you are right that this administration is doing a great job of taking a page out of silicon valley's book. they are bringing the best practices back to the citizens. matt, i want to go to you with that. i'm fascinated by what you are doing at brigade. i will set it up in that any successful and democratic society, civic participation is necessary. the problem is not everyone feels like they can be heard. not everyone feels like they can be heard or make an impact. with social media we know it changed how constituents and elected interact with each
other. if democracy is your startup -- we know it's a hard job to mobilize con city estit we know it's a hard job to mobilize con city estiuents to n active role. how will brigade help to scale democracy? >> great question. let me start by saying that the impetus for brigade was a fear as we looked at the electorate and voting behavior and attitudes toward government that we're really worried about where the country is going because we think that citizens are losing faith in their own efficacy. when you say it's hard to participate, it is. and yet people who have educations, people who make money participate at a very high rate. their interests and their needs are often pretty well represented in government despite obvious gaps in technology and other dysfunctions that jen kind of said we're trying to resolve. if you take the last california mid term for example, anybody
want to guess, panelists included, what turnout was for younger voters, for the 18 to 25-year-old crowd? any guesses? here in california. >> about half that. about 8% turnout for millenni millennials. latinos as a whole, only 6%. low income voters, i don't know the stat but it was in that ballpark. yet for educated, white, middle-aged to older voters, turnout was closer to what you would expect, 50%, 60%. so i think that ends up being an issue of justice and responsiveness of our government and of our elected representatives. now when we look at the problem particularly thinking about this next generation of voters, we have identified two components to it that we want to try to tackle. one is complexity. democracy is not scaled well
offline. there are over 500,000 elected officials in the u.s. we are each represented by over 40 elected officials, 30 or more of them are at a local level. you probably couldn't name more than a few. i personally can only name a handful. you probably don't know what they are elected to do, what decisions they are making. the federal budget is about 2.something trillion. all of those elected representatives spend just as much money. they make a lot of decisions about things like public safety, transportation, education. in many cases healthcare, parks and rec. a lot of local decisions about spending and regulations that actually have a bigger impact on yu your quality of life than the decisions that the president can make, not that he or she could make that many anyway. so i think complexity is one matter. how do you help people make sense of this massive opaque system? not just who the reps are and
the issues, but how decisions get made. how does power get exercised? the other is even if you can overcome that problem and we think technology offers obvious solutions there, take -- i was giving this example. if you want to travel to dubai and london and then singapore and then back home and you will need hotels and cars and you want to book that, you put in a few parameters and you get options and sort it. it's not impossible to take complex data and personal preferences and start to make sense of it and make if accessible and understanding for people and let them do something with it. there's the complexity problem. i have indicated what i think some technology kind of direction we could take there. but there's a deeper cultural problem which is even if i can make sense of the system and i decide to participate, is it going to matter? it's not apathy. we think people don't care and they can't be bonl ethered. it's a crisis of faith. is it going to matter?
our hope there -- we think the promise is in long tale of office offices and local electi elections. if you vote in california for president, your vote probably doesn't have an impact, unfortunately. we just did a local election test in manchester, new hampshire. in a city of 75,000 people, the mayor got re-elected by 100 votes. a handful of people could have knocked on doors, organized neighbors, said, this is what we care about and it could determine the outcome of the election. i think making those things transparent, bringing data to bear, social tools and connect that to the political process in a direct way is how we scale up participation and make it more representative. that's what it is about. how do we make it more representative and more responsive to the needs of everyone. >> thank you for that. i think i'm definitely going to become a user after this. thank you for that. i want to come to you next.
jennifer and matt have both spoken about things that you can certainly give us a lot of insight on. specifically, i wanted to go to jennifer's point about when she was in the white house and your experience when you were there. before i get to your actual question, if you could give us a little tidbit around what you did with the state of the union, that amazing experience when you brought it to life. >> sure. the state of the union is for the white house is the biggest audience you will have at any point in time. but over the course of time, state of the union audience viewership has dropped dramatically. that's in part because president obama has been in office for seven years now. you have seen it before. it has been going -- people have more choices now. they have more -- for a decades it was more channels. now they have what's on their phone, on their tablet. people don't -- younger people don't believe in appointment television. you don't show up at tuesday night to watch a speech.
you watch it when you want to watch it. we thought in 2015 -- we spent time thinking about how can we engage people more with the state of the union? we thought if we sort of divided it into viewers that with had and tried to design content. the first group of people are your television watchers, people who watch it on tv. that's easy to deal with. you make sure they know it's on tv and you give -- you write a good speech and have the president deliver it well. do that. second group of people will be people who will watch it on tv but watch it not in the traditional way of themselves and their television but will watch it with their phone or ipad or computer. the people what we call the two screen experience. we did for that was to have a set of content that would be able to be -- that would highlight -- moments of the speech would be info graphics, additional information, photos and short videos that would
provide depth and nuance to some of the points and share those on social. so you could see that as it was happening. the third group were people w watching online. we tried to drive people to the white house website. would you get that what we call the river of content where you would see the graphics and that information as you were watching it. the last group were people who were never going to watch it on television either on demand or on their phone or anything like that. how can we engage those people? we did a couple of things there, which is -- the most notable was for the first time ever we put out the text of the state of the union on media in advance. people who were a part of the that platform through their connection on twitter or facebook would see the speech. they may not ever watch it. but they had an opportunity to read it or see parts of it. we would also take over the course -- we didn't view the
state of the union as this one hour moment on the first tuesday in february. it was instead a period of time leading up to and leading before. we were announcing policies, you know, on facebook or in real events leading up to it. afterwards, we would take parts of the speech on climate change, for instance and then motivate and engage influencers to share that content. would you have a chance to interact with it. we saw just from our own metric and data more engagement that way than if we had had 30-some million people watched it. compared to the 100 million who would have watched it 20 years ago, it's a fraction. we saw more engagement through this than if we had gotten an additional 5 million people to watch. >> that is what you did. now i want to come to your question about the president himself. as someone who has been with the president since his first campaign, you have had the privilege of working for the most powerful startup in the
land. so having said that, the up side that you have had has extraordinary. you have been able to do good in your job. you have been able to serve the american people. again, bring technology to government. so, speaking about the president, how would you say that he has -- what key objectives would you say that he's achieved in the administration that are solely or exclusively driven by the use of technology? >> well, i think a big part of it is communication. right? it is a fundamental role of the president to communicate with the american people. now, that serves a strictly governmental function at times, to tell people about how they -- can get health care, a tax refund, or prepare for a hurricane coming. the traditional tools that allow you to do that -- network television, cable television, and newspapers -- reach a dramatically diminishing part of the audience. so a huge part of what we had to do in that course of time, was
learn how to leverage tools to do that. that's incredibly important on the governmental side. then you have to communicate in two other fashions. one is to try to get your agenda passed. that's to motivate public opinion. and the president has had very good success with that in some areas and ran into a wall in partisanship, the split government we have in washington. but one way in which we think of the long arc of this presidency where he's been most successful from a communications perspective, in his willingness to experiment with new technologies, viewing the presidency as a platform of engagement, not strictly communication, has been in helping move the ball forward in public opinion on things that are very core to him. when we started running for president, think about this, the idea that marriage equality was something that was opposed by a majority of this country and
something that almost every political figure would be afraid to touch. >> that's right. >> republicans, the conservative economic view from reagan of smaller taxes -- lower taxes and smaller government, was the predominant way. the idea -- in immigration, in the democratic primary, if the president got a question on immigration, in most states, it was from the right, about loose borders and people taking jobs. these are democratic primary voters asking the president the sort of questions that you now hear eight years later at a donald trump event. and on climate change, was sort of a much more picayune issue politically. the democratic party itself was divided on it. and over the course of a very aggressive and concerted effort over time, the president has moved the ball. let's take guns, too, because
that's in the news right now. it moved to a place, moving public opinion there. action hasn't happened on all of those things, but he views part of it as helping shape the public opinion environment so that after his presidency, additional progress on these areas is possible. if he communicated like a traditional president, which every time we did something unconventional, whether it was the president holding a selfie stick, or getting with zach galifianakis, or do a youtube interview, which now seems completely normal. in 2009, the conventional wisdom flipped out. like, we were demeaning the president, you're putting him on the internet? like doing all those things was -- >> it wasn't the internet. it was zach galifianakis. [ laughter ] >> right, but even sitting with youtube and taking questions. it was seen as somehow demeaning of the presidency. zach galifianakis is up for fair debate, i will say that.
but doing all that was crucial to fundamentally changing the way that all presidents going forward, republican or democrat, will engage with the public. >> totally agree. it's fair game to say back in 2008, what you did in '08 almost seems archaic compared to what we're doing now. so he brought those issues to life. he was able to engage and mobilize. matt, how would you respond to what dan is saying about how the president used technology and how we can marry that with what brigade is doing? >> couple thoughts on that. one is dan's describing what great presidents have always done, figure out how to leverage the bully pulpit. there's a proliferation of different communication channels and apps. the president's done an amazing job of figuring out how to navigate a really complex media landscape and get a message out to a lot of different audiences. one of the things going back to 2008 that i think is very interesting is that many of you in this room may have been
familiar with my barack obama.com and some of the technology that was built there to help groups of people organize together. i think there's a promise in that idea and i think you saw it in the dean campaign, using meet up, and you've seen that in these different moments of people trying to use the internet. there's a promise there that hasn't been realized. and what i think it is, is the opportunity for more bottom up self-organization that can plug into something formal and somewhat centralized and top down. you kind of have to have both of those. and for a long time now, our media, our mass media has really been very centralized and has tapped into a model in which candidates and non-profits raise a bunch of money and do direct marketing to mobilize people who don't really want to hear the message. and trying to nudge them to give that one dollar because of guilt or whatever it is. and oddly enough, i just
downloaded the field the burn app. how many have you checked that thing out? a good number here in san francisco? no? i won't even go to the other side of the aisle. interestingly, i downloaded the app and it had a deep dive on all the issues with info graphics and videos, which was amazing. it had this cool map for me to geo-locate myself. i had my profile with my achievements for how many votes i gathered. but i was looking at it, saying, where are the people? like even there, there's no conversation and bottom up power-building through creating a community of action that can sustain itself over time. and even with successes online today, like sopa pippa, it was a very quick "no." it wasn't where a group of people who maybe want change around gun laws who are going to build power and capacity over time. my background bias is towards grassroots organizing, so that's how we see the world in our company. but i think there's a promise there that technology hasn't realized and that for everything
president obama has done, that's going to be the future of getting elected, but also sustaining efforts to get things done once in office. >> wonderful. and jen, what do you have to add to that? >> i would just extend that. you have getting people elected and sustaining that agenda, sustaining that community, that set of values. and i think what we see also through our work with local government, it's also not just the "i want to have a voice" in the policy, but it's also "i want to lend my hands to making my community better." and that's also something we're seeing the power of the internet be able to bring together. for us at code for america, we have a program where we have folks from silicon valley come and do partnerships with local government for a year. they take a user-centered approach. >> the fellows? >> these are the fellows. and we welcomed our new class of
fellows at code of america, but in the first class, 2011, they're coming from tech jobs and doing a year of service with local government. we had a team that was working with the city of boston. as a side project, one of the folks noticed in 2011 in boston, it was snowpocalypse. do you remember this? >> isn't that every winter in boston? >> that's true. but this was really bad. it was the first year in a long time. and these are programmers from start-up and google and apple. and they're sort of in these operation centers in boston city government during this massive snow crisis. so you really get part of what government does. we think of government is sort of policies and stuff. but government is clearing the snow. government is helping people who are stuck. government is, like, who is getting the snowplow? is my neighbor getting the snow
plow or another neighbor getting the snow plow? when the snowplows clear the streets, it covers the fire hydrants. they can be so completely covered that if there's a fire, you're talking about quite a long time before they are dug out. we don't even think about that anymore. we don't have the resources to dig those things out. he's going, if i live in front of a fire hydrant, i'm incentivized to dig that fire hydrant out. and eric michaels wrote, like in a day, to try something out, wrote an app called adopt a hydrant, that allowed the citizens of boston to say, i'm digging out that fire hydrant if it's covered in snow. and it's just this crazy thing that took flight. anyone here live in oakland? you can adopt a storm drain in oakland. why should the city come out and clear that storm drain when it's full of leaves? when you can just walk out and do it. i will say, i've done it, and it
is gross to stick your hand in a storm drain. but once you get over that, you've saved the city, like a whole crew, right? and your street isn't backing up. there are things that we as citizens can do, to make our communities and neighborhoods work better that are things that we've asked institutions, local governments, to do them for us. unfortunately, they do them now at very great cost. it is free to stick your hand in the storm drain. adopt a siren in honolulu, where it really matters, that you know when the tsunami is coming and you need to know that your thing so i just think there's that element too of not just, where is my voice in politics, but where are my hands to help make my community better and how do we use internet technologies to make that easier and better and i would just echo everything matt had to say about really the incredible relevance of the local level of government.
>> and staying with that, and we're talking about adopt a hydrant. so just out of all the different technologies that you've seen foster through the code for america, follows your program, what would you say has been the most critical for digital civic participation, number one, right? and then relatedly, how would providers of such similar technologies engage with the government? because code for america is doing such an amazing job, but how do we cast a wider net? >> to your last point, one of the things that's happened in the last three years, many wonderful people in silicon valley and we say meta physical silicon valley, it's not limited to the bay area, as much as we would like to think. there are amazing entrepreneurs who take this agile user-centered approach all over the country. but meta physical silicon valley is getting over its
horror of government and actually doing start-ups that will provide technology and services to government in a way that are enormously changing the eco-system, giving people in government many, many different options that are not just the large system integrators, god love them, but we need start-ups doing things in an agile way. it's a huge thing. seven of them have been spin-outs of code for america, but there are many, many others and we support all of them because it makes government work better for the people. so your question about what technologies have been -- >> like, let's say, is it a mobile technology, is it texting? what is a good way to ensure digital civic participation, something that's in your hands to drive that easy? >> i would answer before technology, we hear this question, what are the things that really open up this opportunity in government. more important than any particular technology, i would say, and i'm sorry if i repeat myself, i'll say this over and over again.
an iterative, user-centered and data driven approach. that approach, whatever technology you're deploying, is just critical and is just very different from the ways in which government has sort of codified their approach to technology in the past. and frankly, for all good reasons, we've created procurement and ethics rules because we wanted to do right by the people. but they've had an unintended consequence in a universe where things move so quickly. we can try things out in technology and iterate very quickly based on user feedback. that's what works and that's very hard to do in a government context, but that's what the u.s. digital service has been doing. that's what 18-f, which is their partner, who has an office nearby, in san francisco, that's what code for america is doing. that's more important than any technology, and it's very important that we support all of our government entities that are trying to take that approach, despite a whole bunch of rules
that make it a little bit difficult. but to answer your question, i do think that text messaging, for us at the local level, there are many different things we've done. the aggregation of data in just making it usable for citizens is really, really huge. when you're dealing with populations who are relying on digital services for things like food stamps or housing, we have found that finding very simple ways to text message someone, for instance, if you apply for food stamps in california, being able to follow up by text message and saying did you get the benefit. or hey, it turns out, you're about to fall off the rolls because you didn't reply to some of the communications that we sent, very long letters written in legalese that you don't understand. when you don't reply to them, you may fall off the rolls. if we can send a text message that says you need to call the office or you will end up at the grocery store trying to use your food benefits and it won't work. these things are really big for us at this moment in time, where
we don't have everybody on a smartphone platform. text is huge. >> that's where i was going. it's important to take the messaging to the people, right? you want to go where they are. that's really critical. and to your point about open data, it's evidenced by the fact that we have our first chief data officer at the white house, but the commerce department has their first chief data officer as well, a good friend of mine, ian kalen. also a previous innovation fellow. >> first year. >> so i think there's just a lot of -- there's a lot of coming together between what you're saying, the roles that people are playing and the relationship between the public and the private sector. so thank you for that. and matt, i want to come to you next, and i'm going to read you some stuff back that you've said before. >> uh-oh. that's what politics is like. >> don't do that to me, please. >> so i promise it's all good. >> my wife is in the audience. >> this is about brigade.
in an op-ed, you wrote that voters, especially millenials, have well-formed opinions on issues such as whether or not airbnb should be regulated and a desire for civic engagement but they didn't know how to make their voices heard or believe that their voices count. and according to congressional quarterly, 2015, 23 states advanced 60 pieces of legislation to restrict short term rental platforms like airbnb. how would you engage voters, who support tech platforms with the decision makers at the state level and stop such legislation from passing or at least let it be heard that we don't want this to happen? >> what we built last november, i referenced the test in manchester, new hampshire, we did the same test in san francisco. it really was a test. it was iterative, it's scrappy, we built it in five weeks, we looked at data, learned a lot, made a ton of mistakes and now we can take that forward with
our next test in the primaries and the general this year. and i will get around to answering your question, if i don't, you can hold me accountable to it. what we wanted to test was basically three things. will users of brigade express their political beliefs in a way that can help us inform, help us help them inform how they may want to vote and participate in the election. if we make those recommendations on how they may want to vote, are they willing to then do a little more research and confirm how they're planning to vote in advance of the election? and can we motivate them to pull their friends in and engage them in that same process? one of the difficult learnings was driving mobile app installs is really difficult. that's a niche tech problem, but it's a big deal. really hard to get people to install apps. that was hard. we tried a lot of different marketing approaches. i was joking with dan that not a lot of people wake up in the
morning, saying, i wish i had a better tool for voting, for engaging in politics. somebody understands. so the barrier to entry was really high. i think part of the tactical lesson for us is to meet people where they are, build more on web, maybe through text, easier interfaces and touch points for people because there are a lot of people visiting facebook every day, there are a lot of people in a lot of different places where we can build more hooks. once we got them into that experience, though, which was focused on taking positions written by the chronicle. so a position might be something like, we should enforce more restrictions on my ability to rent out my extra bedroom to a stranger or something like that. or we should increase taxes to fund, you know, a larger health
benefit for workers in the city, so on and so forth. we took a bunch of positions and partnered with the chronicle and produced the content and some background information. people were incredibly willing to dig in and voice their opinions. it was amazing how quickly people got through it. they generally knew where they stood on a lot of these issues. i agree with that, i disagree with that, for the mission moratorium. didn't take a lot of information. voters are not dumb, and they're not apathetic. you just have to figure out how to reach them. so the completion rate was really, really high. people agreed, disagreed. you took a side, got to see what other people think, competing responses for why people took different sides. and we then said, given everything you've told us about your political beliefs, here's how we recommend you vote. with more information about each of the candidates. that stuff went well, as well. a high percentage of them said, i'm going to fill out my ballot on my phone, so i have this rich source of information before the election and many of the people
said they kept that with them or took it into the voting booth with them. it was accessible, better structured, easy to read, it recorded their answers. i filled out a bunch. i wanted to do more research to help me keep track of where i was on this thing that was always with me, which is my phone. and then on the last piece, we didn't probably get the peer-to-peer part as right as i would have liked, but we had power users for something like, i think it was prop f, who sent a lot of messages to their friends, trying to recruit them, saying, i'm voting "yes" or "no" and here's why. so to answer the question, i think there's a general question around distribution and how you get the new tools in front of people and how much demand is there that i think is going to have to be driven by creating cultural and social norms around participation and make it something people are talking about on facebook and twitter,
reintegrate our civic and social lives and use technology to do that. how do you make it mainstream and bake it into everyday life and we're not the only ones doing that. change.org and nice citizen and pop vox, and a bunch of others in the space trying to figure it out. but then it's about making it really simple, immediate feedback, personalized, transparent and a useful tool for people. when we got that in the hands of people, they used it and they loved it, and the response was really positive. and here in san francisco, it was on the order of about a thousand voters. so in an election of 160,000, for us, that's a pretty good validation, at least from the feedback that we got, that was so positive from those voters. >> i think that's a great quote, integrating our social and our civic lives. amazing if we can do that. that's wonderful. thank you. before i go to the last question
with dan, i want to let the audience know in about five minutes we will go to q & a. so if you're starting to think about a question, the mike is there. you'll probably want to start lining up there in about five minutes. dan? >> yes. >> back to you. i have a multi-part question for you. so i hope that's okay. with your new role at go fund me, right, you've gone from taking tech to politics and connecting the dots from silicon valley back to washington. tell us what does your new role entail, specifically in what kind of policy changes are you trying to impact? are those going to impact the -- are they going to affect the whole tech industry, or just a specific sector? and will it be easier to make those changes from the outside? >> look, i think the best way that anyone can make change, is if you have a chance to serve in government. that's the ultimate place to do it. >> agree. hundred percent. >> when you think about the people that jen and others
recruited from, and you talk to them in the hallways, people who have worked at google and facebook and been part of these incredibly lucrative things, and you talk about the chance to give health care to more people, like the people who came in and saved health care.gov, there was no other opportunity to have an impact on people's lives like that. that's the ultimate way to do it. you can do it on a local level. ultimate manifestation is in the white house. so that, i think, everyone, if they get an opportunity to do that in their lives, they should do that. >> hear, hear. >> thank you. for me, you know, what i -- when i left the white house after six years, and i've thought about what i want to do with my life, i didn't really know. because you had asked me when i first got in politics, what would be like your ultimate dream would be like find a candidate you really believe in, get started early with them, go on a journey to the white house
and get to be a part of an important presidency in an important role. check. i got to do that. thank you, barack obama. >> and did it very well. >> thank you for finding myself unemployed about the time barack obama started to run for president. so that was good. didn't know what i wanted to do next. i had spent some time out here through having spent a lot of time especially in the last two years of my time in the white house, we were beginning to engage more with the tech world and the tech space and trying to make those changes. i felt a cultural affinity with silicon valley writ large. geographically, because i moved here, obviously, but -- and i think there's -- when i went to go fund me, to do my first interview with them -- go fund me is a young company. only been around a couple of years. it was very small until a couple of months ago, it's now growing,
about 100 people work there. i went to the first office, our current office we are going to move from soon. it's above a nail salon in menlo park. and the ceo knows i'm coming from the white house. so sorry about our office. it's people working in the hallway, all at standing desks. and i said to him, i was like, this is better than every campaign office i ever went to work in. the first obama office -- >> in the fourth floor of the eob. >> in all of the eob. there's actually heat in this office. >> this is the executive office building, our offices. >> and so you feel like -- the obama campaign was the ultimate start-up. and all campaigns are start-ups in some way. what i think has drawn people from washington to silicon valley, and there are more of them moving out here every day, and people from silicon valley to washington and why those people in silicon valley are so valuable in washington is a bias for action. right? in start-up world, you have to move fast.
you have to decide quickly and you have to act. in campaigns, it's the same thing. you cannot wait. if you sit around and dilly dally for hours, like, people want to try something and get it done. if it doesn't work, you try something else and you learn from it. so there's that cultural affinity. what lead me to go fund me, which is a personal crowd-funding site, rapidly growing. most of our business is people who are raising money to pay for medical bills, or to help someone in their community, or fund textbooks for schools or stuff like that. but we do all kinds of projects. i didn't know i really wanted to take a job. i thought i could do the consulting thing, and do panels and work in coffee shops and do conference calls. but what really drew me to go fund me, essentially what go fund me is doing is using technology to empower people to help others. sometimes they're helping their
family. sometimes it's themselves. a lot of times it's their community, and that was the core of -- that's the obama promise. >> so you're still doing good? >> it's the obama promise. we're a for-profit company. we want to do business. the better we do, more people will help each other. but the core obama promise was not -- it gets lost in a lot of the -- but if you listen to the speech in 2007 and 2008, it's not, i'm going to do all these things for you. it's that we are going to do them together. we are going to come together and change our country. change comes from the bottom up. barack obama's background is similar to matt's, it's about grass-roots organizing. and what's most important about technology, good technology is about democratizing, about bringing power from institutions down to people. right? you look in terms of, like, what are the internet and the ability to blog, gave normal people the same power that newspapers had.
periscope and meerkat, give the same power to people with a phone that television networks have. go fund me gives the same power to people that large non-profits have. that you can just see something in your community and you yourself can do it. you don't have to bake cookies. doesn't have to be a bake sale or a raffle. you can decide use the power of your social network to raise money to solve a problem. that's inkrbly powerful to give people a chance to change their community. that's what led me to government in politics and that's what led to go fund me. >> i would just like to echo what dan said about public service and to draw that very deep, i think, emotional connection between a lot of the ethos that i see and feel in silicon valley and what the experience i had and others had in federal government or in any level of government.
the team that saved health care.gov worked about 20 hours a day every day for about 150 days, in some cases. it was incredibly intense. it was sometimes i was not on the team, i was in that office and was working on some parallel issues at the time, but these were people who were motivated by an intense desire to save health care for their fellow americans. and there were times when todd park, who was our boss -- i'm saying "our" because my colleague is in the audience -- would bring the letters that the president had received about the affordable care act into the office and read them. and there was one -- i think each letter hit various of us on the team differently. there was one that i can never forget him reading that was from a mother, who said, i have spent the past 20 years choosing between health care for myself
and for my kids. and because i was able to sign up through health care.gov, i'm now going to see a doctor for the first time in a long time. i just thought, oh, my god. that's not a choice i've had to make. this is a choice she's made. and everybody on the team was just so inspired to do this amazing work. and work, you know, we always joke at code for america, that when you end a code for america fellowship, you go to work at a start-up to have an easier job. people who work in government, particularly around technology, what they do, it's just profound. we saw that again very recently at code for america, we worked with the state of california this year to help them change the way they're approaching the procurement of the child welfare system. so it's very easy to get lost in the abstract things. it was going to be a $500 million or $600 million procurement. it was going to be very classic, old-school approach, waterfall
methodology, five years to build, we wouldn't see anything until the end. these are the hallmarks of failed government technology programs. you can look at it and say, we have tools to bring to bear on that, we have different methodologies for procurement and different ways in atf and then you're doing all that work in a very abstract way. and our team was coming home from a meeting in sacramento where they agreed to make the changes and reflected on the fact that this is not a piece of technology, this is the way that we take care of kids who are at risk in our state. there are 475,000 reports of abuse and neglect of children in our state. and when the technology doesn't work to manage those cases, those kids have bad outcomes. >> absolutely. >> i think that is such an important point that you're making. the technology is solving an issue. that's the point we're all making. i know i have to go to our questions from our audience, but i do want to end on one quick thing. dan, what you said about
democratizing, that's what brigade is about. democratizing democracy. so we thank you for doing that. >> that should be our tag line. >> democratizing democracy. i was going to put that in my original question, but i liked democracy as your start-up. thank you, guys. at this point, i'll turn it over to q & a from the audience. as you ask your question, a gentle reminder, please ask, if you have a panelist, please let us know who it is and please ask a question. thank you. >> okay, my question will be about database sets. my name's peter gisele, i work in a hospital laboratory, i'm not a computer geek. as a military veteran, i was interested in a bill that was in the congress a long time ago. my frustration is that 99% of the people i contact i never get feedback from. what i want to create is a website, a viewer easily available database that has database sets in it of like the
members of congress, people in the executive branch, but also governors and that. but also academic professors so that i could, over my retirement years, contact these people and try to get feedback, but at least document on this website that contact has been attempted and no response has been given. database sets are very expensive and i just don't understand why the non-profits and the computer industry doesn't just generate these for all the different non-profits in the country. there's a company called leadership directory that provides it, but costs tens of thousands of dollars. >> the question being, you'd like to see that contact documented in a database? >> a database set itself is very expensive to produce. as a one-person campaign, i can't produce it. i would think that if they're created by various non-profits in the country, it would be shareable for everybody in the country. >> somebody want to take up open data sets?
>> i'll take a stab. i heard two parts to your question they might be able to respond to. one is on the database of elected officials and who represents you. i think you're absolutely right. that data is not easily accessible enough. there's no definitive database of every elected official in the u.s. and there's no easy way to say here's who i am as a voter and show me all my reps and who they are and what they do. there are some good attempts and there are some groups working really hard on that. sunlight foundation, google civic api, maplight over in berkeley has been working on aspects of the problem for years now. those data sets are getting better. they still aren't where they need to be. you're absolutely right. i think the second part of the responsiveness of those reps, did they hear what you said and did it count? that's another piece that we're worried about. a lot of that comes down to incentives. i talk to a lot of elected officials who spend a ton of time and this is not a new story for anyone, a ton of time fund-raising, a ton of time talking to interest groups that
represent a lot of money and/or votes in their district and have a lot less time to think about how to engage a wider audience and they're not frankly in a lot of ways that incentivized to do so. so we're hoping to aggregate votes and voters in a way and constituents, so that their opinions actually tied to the identity of someone who votes, can incentivize elected officials to spend more time with them. money and votes are fungible. they're figuring out a lot of time on how to get the money. if you could figure out how to get it to the voters, they would be incentivized to go spend time with them. but it's an unsolved problem at this point. there are some good people working on it. >> next question. >> my name's shayna, i'm a student and also an elusive millennial as you spoke of. for me, the flip side of the proliferation of social media is that a lot of my peers and young people feel like clicktivism and
liking something on facebook is enough, and that's engaging with a cause. for me as someone who has a twitter and a website and has tried to praise technology, it's been difficult to see how social media can be used to sustain involvement and make sure that civic engagement goes past a social media presence. i'm wondering if you can speak a little bit to that. thank you. >> yeah, great question. just quickly, there's a huge amount of engagement online with millenials like shayna, posting articles, commenting on political topics. then when you ask millenials what are the most impactful things they do to help their community, it's actually offline, and/or giving money. volunteering, direct service in their community, where they can see the people they're serving or actually work on things with their hands. it's giving money where they have confidence that the money is going to be used to actually fund something that's impactful. so i do think there's a disconnect right now between the
discourse in self-expression that maybe feels satisfying in the moment because you won that argument or you got three likes on the thing you posted. even if it's -- and it may be political, but you have to ask yourself what do those likes actually amount to and probably the answer is not much. and where millenials are saying they're most satisfied and most engaged which is offline, through volunteerism. i think there's a gap. unfortunately, i cited that stat of only 8% of millenials voting in the last california midterm. millenials just don't believe voting matters. that's a huge problem. that probably sounds like a depressing non-answer. i think part of the way you solve that, though, is -- this is a terrible word -- you gamify it, you make the data explicit. you show them they're not alone. you show them how many voters there are, how much the potential impact is.
i'm wearing this thing which i got as a holiday present and it changes behavior. it's amazing. just tracking and making explicit how many hours i sleep, how many steps i take, how much water i drink, just making some data explicit and easy for me to understand and consume and these nudges to do things, has dramatically changed my behavior. i go for a walk after dinner. i try to go to bed earlier. it's not quite as simple in the civic space. but if this is the kind of technology that we're responsive to as consumers and younger people in particular, we're going to have to build those kinds of tools for the civic space. and there's been a huge underinvestment in that in silicon valley for a very long time. government's been the enemy. we don't want to deal with bureaucracy. that's not us. we're hip and cool and solve problems. they don't. jen speaks eloquently as to how to bridge that gap and why it's imperative that we do. >> and if i could just add,
there's a particular opportunity that sort of bridges that sense of social media in digital competence with that sense of hands and working in your community. the code for america brigade, there are 44,000 people that participate in their local communities. they build technology for their city government, for their local community, and they are two of the most active communities here in san francisco and oakland. san francisco meets on wednesday nights at our office on ninth street. one of our sponsors, who is in the back for microsoft, who helps out with that community. and open oakland is also in city hall weekly. so it's activism that's digital that helps out in your community. >> that's wonderful, thank you. we have time for two more questions. we'll take the next one. >> my name's ruth shapiro, and right before i came here, i was
watching the town hall with president obama about guns. and there seemed to be, in the audience, quite a few people who were very much galvanized by what i believe is completely untrue information about guns. so i think the underbelly, or the dark side of proliferation of information, is the proliferation of untrue and destructive information with isis recruitment being obviously way, you know, a worst case example of this. so i wonder if you can just discuss the fact that there's a lot of untrue destructive information out there, which people are organizing around and how do you deal with that. >> sure. i can take that. >> look, there are upsides and there are pros and cons to all things, right? and the dramatic democratization and proliferation of information has done great things for the world. but there are people who can use
it in nefarious ways, isis being the most obvious example. there has been evil in the world before there was social media. there was prejudice before it. social media really allows people to express opinions they otherwise had in different ways. what it does do is allow people to confront opinions they would not otherwise ever see. now, you raised guns and guns is a very interesting one. because guns and climate change are two of the hardest issues to communicate on, because we don't live in this broadcast world where you just go to the news and everyone hears what you have to say. people are now communicating in networks and these networks are becoming, in many cases, more homogenous. so it becomes very hard for someone who is outside of that network to convince a bunch of people in a different network that climate change is real. or that actually no one's coming to take your guns, right? so that presents -- that is a challenge.
now, i think that as we, as people learn and politicians learn how to better communicate in this area, you're going to have some more progress there. but i think social media is a tool that, i think, does way more good than bad. but we're going to have to sort of look and learn about how we can deal with, you know, these closed communications. i think it's worth noting the fact that people have facebook friends or twitter followers, who basically believe the same thing, is more of a symptom of something larger that's happening in society. offline it's happening too. it's the great sorting. people are hanging out and living with and going to school with people of the same opinion. so there are precincts in this country, in san francisco and new york, where mitt romney got zero votes. not a single person voted for mitt romney in that area.
and there are precincts where barack obama got zero. not one person differed from their neighbors on that issue in a 51-49 country. so it always becomes easy for people in politics and the media to blame twitter and facebook, and it's made our politics uglier, more confusing, or now people are less informed than they were before. we got to think on bigger things, rather than just what the social media platform of the day is. >> and because of that point, we made a specific design decision on brigade, maybe it's background checks required for gun purchases, on what informed citizens do, they take a position, they agree or they disagree, but then they have an ability to leave rien and -- reason and the crowd has the
ability to comment, to vet, to post more content. so we made a design decision to structure it as a debate with different perspectives. i would rather in the long run, have a crowd-sourced multi dimensional debate where truth gets created over time and can be revised and updated, more of a wikipedia model, than a kind of expert-driven, you know, encyclopaedia britannica model. the internet offers that, but it's going to require time and tools and social norms for that to work for everyone. >> if you haven't downloaded brigade, i encourage you to do it. i was an early user. i met with matt really early after i left the white house. we talked about it. it is a cool feeling when, because what happens is, you leave a reason, and if someone changes their mind because of your reason, you get a notification. so and so changed their mind because of what you wrote. that gives you a rewarding feeling. on the big issues like guns or taxes or women's health issues, maybe i'm not going to convince
other people but in the course of like reading about some of the, you know, this is the first san francisco election i ever voted in this year and reading some of the back and forth on that, you hear really interesting arguments about things you wouldn't have otherwise thought of. so it's a totally interesting thing when you do the -- my first time of the million ballot initiatives here -- [ laughter ] -- incredibly helpful. >> welcome to california. i feel like you're talking to me. i've already said i'm going to download it. just kidding. >> i wasn't trying to be subtle. >> that was great. and with that, we'll go to our last question of the evening from the audience. >> it's interesting. i was going to ask about what you were talking about, which is the unintended consequence of technology actually helping polarize the nation more. i was going to compliment you on what you just mentioned at brigade, it's the only place where you see both points of view. my question is, what role do you
see yourself having on actually using technology so we can graduate and use it as a way to work together? there's so much overlap on issues like immigration that different groups on the different sides agree on, but when you go into this world of sorting and dividing, i'm not going to work with that person because they're so evil, that even though we agree with each other, we're not going to work. and that's what's happening. so my question is, how important is that for you at brigade, and what are your thoughts about how to work on that? >> thanks for the question. i think in the long run, it's absolutely critical. our mission is to empower people to play an active role in their democracy through collective action. we want to help people build real influence. so discussion and getting informed and learning about yourself and where you stand on the issues and forming an opinion on things is a really important starting place. but we have a long way to go to figure out, to build the tools
for people to take action and collaborate. jen mentioned brigade -- we both like that name. -- mentioned the code for america brigades, which are exactly that. those are people with a common vision for wanting to get something done. they have resources and tools, they use technology to meet offline and work together to build amazing things. similarly in the realm of policy and electoral politics, we want to connect new people to work together. i don't know which of my neighbors sadly, talking about local government, i have no idea which of my neighbors care about the same issues i care about. i wouldn't know where to begin to work with them. and finding ways to reconnect those people and give them tools to organize and get things done is absolutely the long-term vision. >> thank you. >> i think the other place is, we can connect on getting the policy that we think matches our " but particularly here in silicon valley, we can connect around the implementation of that policy. if you care about immigration,
one of the things i was doing when health care.gov was doing their stuff, was working with citizenship and immigration and domestic policy council. that was when we still thought we would pass immigration reform at the legislative level. and we said, wow, if aca is vulnerable to being threatened by implementation, so is immigration. now, since then, many wonderful people have come from silicon valley to help the immigration -- the administrative things that have to happen if we're going to process many more people through. so there's common ground, i think, particularly in this community around getting the policies to actually work, using digital technology. >> absolutely agree. thank you for that. that was our last question. thank you for the audience, really appreciate it. before we close out, i want to go on to our informed tradition. the last question is for all the panelists. dan, start with you and work our way back this way. i would like to ask each of you,
what are your 60-second ideas to change the world? so small. >> i had to go first on that one. obviously personal crowd fund-raising. >> obviously. >> yes. >> would you like to expand on that? [ laughter ] >> sure. i was trying to be efficient in silicon valley style and do it in ten seconds. i think the most important thing for changing the world is education. right? it's bringing more -- it's giving people the opportunity to reach their full potential. that can happen in a whole wide array of things. but people's fates are being determined at too young an age. start with early childhood, work your way to learning a specific skill set, that more than anything else, that's on the long arc of the world that will make our country a better place. >> agreed. jen?
>> i guess i would say that i think if we all believed and held government accountable to it working for us and for the people that it needs to help, not just us, but people who need to rely on government more, we would live in a different world. we have a lower expectation, and i think the belief that it could be and the ability to help make it as effective as we need it to be is a powerful idea. it's not only about the delivery of government services which is where we focus at code for america, but it turns out that if we make the delivery of those government services work in the way that, say, uber works, then we get realtime data about what programs work and then government can work effectively, not just at the delivery level, but at the policy level. >> couldn't agree more. so far i like everything you
guys have said. matt? >> i feel like i've been talking about that the whole time, probably selfishly, i'm sorry. i guess i'd just slightly reframe it as a better answer to shayna's question, which is that i want to live in a world where people take pride in having opinions and being civically engaged and doing things not just with their voice, but with their hands. and this is a sad statement on humanity, i point back to my health tracker. but i think we're going to have to measure those things and they're going to have to be recorded and it's going to be part of our civic identity online and part of our identity of who we are. but if more of our lives are moving online, my big idea is that being rooted in a community, having opinions, having a stake in society and contributing through my voice and my hands, making that accessible and making it something that's aspirational is the big idea and what we're trying to build. >> thank you. thanks so much.
those were great answers. i'm so thrilled to be on stage with you tonight. can we just give our panelists a round of applause. [ applause ] thanks, guys. don't get up. don't move. thank you, everyone. is there still wine? no, i'm just kidding. i was going to send you guys to the wine. the detroit free press reports that the fbi is now investigating the contamination of flint's drinking water, which has left an unknown number of flint children and other residents poisoned by lead and resulted in state and federal emergency